2011 Acura RL Advance

We journalists tend to dismiss the RL based on more or less abstract standards - it's not pretty enough, not sporty enough, not premium enough. But I suspect real owners absolutely love it. And why shouldn't they? The RL is quick, comfortable, quiet, and likely more reliable than many of its sexier European competitors.

The RL's quality remains its foremost achievement. Run your fingers along the perfectly aligned exterior panels, the thick slab of wood that runs across the dashboard, and the soft-touch plastics found under the dashboard. Even in a time when most cars are built to a high standard, Acura flagship's stands a notch above.

Such careful execution is also evident in the suspension tuning. Southeast Michigan potholes couldn't disturb the RL enough to spill my coffee, and a few decent switchbacks exposed very little body roll. The steering wheel, nicely trimmed with perforated leather and wood, transmits enough feel and feedback to make the car feel smaller than it actually is, a trick Acura engineers also put to good use in the larger ZDX. The RL's 3.7-liter V-6 lacks the grunt of its German rivals, but it's hardly impotent and is amazingly refined. Someone at Infiniti needs to take this engine apart and figure out how to build a large-displacement V-6 that's this creamy. The SH-AWD system makes the most of that power, further shrinking the car's footprint as it dances through turns.

The only way the RL might frustrate an actual owner is with its telematics. I've had plenty of time to master Acura's navigation and radio controls from my time with our long-term ZDX, but I still find them harder to use and less attractive than competitors' solutions. The nav screen graphics look a few years out of date. The RL recoups a few technology points, though, when you turn up the volume on the sound system.

All this competence doesn't erase the RL's shortcomings. Its anonymous styling in particular does not make the statement most are looking for in a $55,000 car, and the interior, well-constructed though it may be, lacks that extra bit of flair and grace you'll find in an Audi A6 or an Infiniti M37. For these reasons, the RL doesn't live on my shortlist of favorite sedans. And yet, it's still one of the first cars I mention when people ask me for a recommendation, simply because I can be certain it will never disappoint.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

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